05/28/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama, Clinton, McCain Descend On FL, Despite Delegate Mess

Florida -- shunned for months by most candidates because the state held a primary seven days before Democratic party rules allowed -- has completed its selection of 211 convention delegates and now suddenly has come into play as the major swing state in the general election.

And, it's understandable! Florida has 27 electoral votes in November, the fourth largest number among the 50 States, and it is still considered up for grabs-- at least, among pundits.

If there is any debate on Florida's importance in Election 2008 as the hottest battleground state, just refer anyone to Tuesday's Miami Herald, which notes the Sunshine State vote-getting efforts of both political parties. The lead story on page one bellows in huge headlines: "McCain, Obama, Clinton Target Florida."

The Herald story by political writers Beth Reinhard and Lesley Clark report that all three presidential contenders -- after months of ignoring the peninsula -- will be there within the next few days. Sen. Hillary Clinton is due in West Palm Beach and Ft Lauderdale, Sen. John McCain in Miami to address a group of Cuban organizations, and Sen. Barack Obama in a three-day swing that includes speeches in St. Petersburg with its elderly population, at the Cuban-American Foundation in Miami and at a large synagogue in vote-heavy Boca Raton, with one of the largest Jewish populations in the State.

"They're all like Ponce de Leon," one Democratic activist said. "They've discovered Florida."

The visits by the three contenders (Clinton's folks continue to say "it aint over yet") comes on the heels of last week's contentious final selection of at-large delegates by Democrats in Tampa, which -- based on the now- being-punished Jan 29 primary results -- gave a slight delegate advantage to Sen. Clinton.

Although the Democratic National Committee won't meet until May 31, most observers are now saying the DNC will probably not want to antagonize Floridians any further and may relent by seating the entire Florida delegation 'in some manner" at the August 25-28 Denver Convention. Florida was being punished (along with another key state, Michigan ) because it held its primary ahead of the dates allowed by party rules.

Republicans stripped its Florida delegation by 50 percent, but with McCain already anointed to carry the GOP banner, it didn't matter much.

The lights have been shining on the Democrats. Despite the threat of punishment, Florida Democrats met last weekend in Tampa and elected the final 40 of its 211 member delegation, and then sent the results to Sens. Obama and Clinton for their review

The Tampa meeting was stormy. Leaders of the Gay/Lesbian alliance -- representatives of a huge voting bloc in South Florida -- say they were promised 14 of the 40 slots in Tampa 'under affirmative action standards" but only got half that number. The session saw GLBT Florida leader Michael Albetta of Fort Lauderdale -- one of the State's leading Democratic activists -- being asked to leave the conference room on three separate occasions, after he voiced objections.

Albetta admittedly was unhappy with the delegate allocation, and so were delegate-hopefuls representing the elderly and war veterans.

However, the State Committee did allocate its delegate strength based on the January primary. Although Clinton held a 17 per cent state-wide advantage over Obama in January, the "new reality" increasingly accepted is that Obama probably cannot be stopped from winning the nomination. Some delegate-elects said that to get their support and keep the party united, Obama must select Clinton as his running mate.

Everyone who keeps up with politics knows Florida and Michigan are being penalized by the DNC for holding early primaries, but the real drama will unfold in Washington D.C on May 31 when the Credentials Committee meets. It is expected that Florida will have its delegates confirmed in some manner -- possibly at one-half vote per delegate.

But a one-half vote solution would be met with stiff opposition.

"We won't be meaningless in the Fall when our electoral votes and our money are needed," said Ron Mills, a Democratic activist from Fort Lauderdale. He joined a growing chorus which says the one half vote solution is an affront to the voters in Florida and is unacceptable.

Long time Dem-leader and Super-delegate Jon Ausman of Tallahassee says he will
take his appeal to the DNC on May 31-- still time, he says, to keep Florida in play for the
general election. His proposal, he explained, could eventually give the state its full 211
delegates, but would start with Florida getting half-votes per delegate and then appealing to
the Convention Credentials Committee for the remaining portion of delegates "to bring
us up to 211 votes."

But, most of the newly elected delegates want "100 percent recognition now " and are
willing to have a convention floor fight if necessary.

Floridians going to the Democratic convention say that Dem-Chairman Howard Dean must recognize the Florida vote today. Delegates are furious because no one knows how the delegates will eventually be allocated, and the DNC refuses even to designate a hotel for Florida delegates

Dean has said Florida would be seated once the two candidates are in agreement, but
there is general feeling that he is just delaying a decision until all the primaries are over on June 3 "or until there is an eventual nominee. " Clinton -- as expected -- has favored seating all of the Florida delegation while Sen.Obama has said "no" because the state thwarted the party rules, despite the record 1.7 million Democrats who cast ballots in January.

"That could backfire," one superdelegate explained. "The DNC's action is playing right into the hands of the Republicans."